I think it’s safe to say that having a friend is important to most of us. In fact, I’d say that relationships, in one form or another, are probably the foremost thing that we desire in life. But as far as friendship goes though, my guess is that we tend to seek those relationships with people who share a similar life-stage to our own. We want people we can relate to. While there is nothing wrong in that, and we should have others close to us who are experiencing life at the same pace, we could be missing out on the huge benefits of those who have either gone before, or are coming after, our own generation.
I have been blessed to have had a few older women in my life patient enough to see me through many of life’s curveballs. Women in my high school youth group who led small groups and chaperoned our trips to camp and to Mexico, friends of my mom’s who agreed to take me under their wings, my mom herself, who showed patience and love through the tough times as well as through the good.
But my most special friend comes with the prefix of “My” before her name. This is a woman who has been through it all with me. She has been my cheerleader, my counselor, my confessional, and my prayer support. She has experienced feelings of frustration and hopelessness while she’s watched me disregard her advice and go my own way. And she has had the blessing of tears at my repentance and in watching the growth in my relationship with the Lord, knowing that God used her to be a large part of my testimony.
This woman is over 20 years older than me, and for most of the long years that we have known each other, our friendship has been primarily one sided. She, in all her wisdom and experience, has poured so much into me. And I have soaked it up.
Has this been wrong? Absolutely not!! You see, this is how God intended it to be.
Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
I too, have younger friends in my life. And some of those relationships are also one sided. At the beginning, I had been annoyed by this, but then I realized something. After doing the math and counting back, when we first met, “My” friend was only a couple years older than I am now…ouch!!! (She had seemed so old to me then, which makes this revelation hurt all the more LOL.) It is now my turn to take what she has poured into me and to pour it into someone else. It is now my turn to not be so self-focused. It is now my turn to be the cheerleader, counselor, confessional and prayer support.
So how can I get the most out of these multi-generational friendships?
1. Be a Friend that Creates an Environment of Acceptance
There is No One Righteous
We all desire to feel accepted in this world, for who we are, regardless of our flaws and mistakes. And for some reason, that acceptance means so much more coming from someone older and wiser. It’s easy to want to judge and condemn a younger woman for not making the wise choices you would have made, or for following a path in life that you can see will end in pain and failure. (For me, this comes too easy, considering all the awful choices I have made, and still do make.)
As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
When we can remember that we are all in need of a Savior, and that there is nobody out there that deserves a Savior, we can approach our relationships in humility. We can show a younger woman the grace and understanding that Christ showed us.
Acceptance is Good for the Soul
When a woman feels absolute acceptance, her confidence is increased. She feels empowered to step out and open up to more around her. On the contrary, when we shame another woman, all it can take is that one time to destroy any little confidence that she might have already possessed.
In her book, Spiritual Mothering (Affiliate Link), Susan Hunt describes the following exchange:
“The teenager was unmarried and pregnant. She had experienced incredible emotional highs and lows during the last several days. As she stood at the front door of an older relative, she wondered what her reaction would be. She knew what rejection felt like. She remembered her fiancé’s reaction and the events which caused him to change his mind. Would her friend reject her?
We don’t know what emotions were swirling inside of Mary as she raised her hand to knock on the door. But we do know that less than five minutes inside that door, she experienced a joy and confidence unexpected in one so young. Only a few moments in Elizabeth’s presence and Mary burst into a magnificent song of praise to God, recorded for us in Luke 1:46-55.”
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. Romans 15:5-7
2. Be a Friend that is a Walking Example
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16
Most of us in our youth had some sort of hero that we looked up to. Whether that hero was living or fictional, a famous icon or a personal loved one, I would say that 9.9 times out of 10, those heroes were older than we were. And we watched them, learned from them, and possibly tried to imitate them.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we learn from others. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we surrounded ourselves with the kind of people worth imitating? Whether we want to admit it or not, others learn from us. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could be the type of people worth imitating?
So how do we know if we are a friend worth imitating?
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:21
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
The more time we spend with Christ and in His word, the more we begin to imitate Him. “My” friend showed me how important this was in her life. She didn’t just tell me that it was important to her, and she didn’t tell me that it should be important to me. She showed me by her example. The more she desired to draw close to Him, the more I watched and learned. Later on, I began to imitate her actions. And you’d better believe, she was the first friend I wanted to tell.
3. Be a Friend that Maintains a Spirit of Encouragement
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Hebrews 3:13
There is nothing like the encouragement from a friend who has been there. We have all experienced so many different things in life. And while it’s true, that no one person’s story is the same as another’s, we can still use our own battered and beaten paths to encourage someone else through their’s.
God calls us to encourage each other. The trick is in not overriding their current problem with your own past story. Use your learned lessons to help, but don’t get caught up in comparing situations, or in telling your own story in such horrific detail that discourages instead (this is particularly important with those who are predisposed to feelings of anxiety, such as my dear husband. I don’t know how many have tried to encourage him in the past, only to result in further anxiety of worse case scenarios coming true). Sometimes the best encouragement comes in silence and in prayer.
“My” friend is really good at this. She is the first one I want to tell when I think of my next great idea, because she makes me feel important and like I can do anything I set my mind to. (Of course, she is also there to pick me back up when I fall, but I don’t like to dwell on that!)
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11
4. Be a Friend that Admonishes, Advises & Trains
The Advice Receiver
Seeking advice from one who has gone before you is one of the wisest steps a person can take (apart from researching what God’s word has to say about the topic of course). But if you seek the advice from a wiser friend, be willing to prayerfully consider it. Because otherwise, you’ve wasted both their time and yours. Don’t merely seek the advice that you want to hear. Due to years of experience and earned wisdom, they might have a perspective that is contrary to your hopes and desires, but maybe that is because your hopes and desires aren’t God’s best, and that needs to be considered.
When I was praying about returning to work after being home with my kids for a couple of years, I sought the advice of a good friend and pastor’s wife. She gave me a few good thoughts to ponder, one of which was how I was going to maintain God as a priority in my life as a full-time working mom. My immediate (and arrogant) response, was that that wasn’t going to be a problem for me at all. I chose to return to work, and after about six months I realized how wrong I had been, and that maybe I should have heeded her advice a bit more.
I love the account of Ruth and Naomi in the Old Testament (Ruth 1-4). Ruth, Naomi’s widowed daughter-in-law, tells Naomi that she’ll follow her anywhere, and so moves back to Bethlehem with her from Moab. Throughout the short book, Ruth is constantly seen asking her mother-in-law for advice, and then actively following it, even when it did not make any sense. Because of this, God blessed Ruth and Naomi with a kinsman redeemer who would marry Ruth, and together they would produce a son who would be forever named in the lineage of the one true King, Jesus Christ Himself.
“I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered. So, she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do.
The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”
The Advice Giver
Hunt has also stated in her Spiritual Mothering (Affiliate Link) book that,
“Encouraging and equipping are necessary for effectual spiritual mothering. The two go together; to separate them diffuses both. Encouragement is the context in which equipping can take place. To equip apart from an atmosphere of encouragement is rigid and formal, impersonal and cold.”
When someone approaches you for advice, and you feel the need to admonish, or warn them, it is important that you deliver that warning within an encouragement sandwich. Nobody likes a nay-sayer, and nobody likes their dreams utterly crushed.
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Colossians 3:16
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:23-25
5. Be a Friend that Offers Strong Prayer Support
Have you ever known a true prayer warrior? You know the type I mean, those “War Room” (Affiliate Link) types, that dedicate hours to praying for everyone they know. Have you ever noticed that most of these types of people are older than you? That’s because the older a person gets, and the longer their relationship with the Lord, the closer they grow to Him, and the more they desire to talk to Him.
Before she passed, my grandma and grandpa both would pray each morning for every member of our family…..BY NAME, not to mention everyone else on their list. (I’m sure my grandpa, in his 90s, still does.) I can’t imagine the amount of time it took them each day to accomplish this task, and the amount of love that went into it. Now that is an example that I’d like to set one day as well!
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.
“My” friend is this way as well. I don’t exactly know her cherished routine, but I do know that she prays for me……A LOT, as she does for others who cross her path regularly. And it’s not just that she prays for me, she tells me that she prays for me. Not only has this been an incredible example to me, but it is also extremely encouraging. And I feel supported. Early on, she was the only person my husband would allow me to share his hurts and struggles with, knowing that she would in turn, pray.
Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16
Again, in her book, Spiritual Mothering (Affiliate Link), Hunt states,
“I believe when older women begin to retreat from activity…they have more time and energy for prayer and meditating on God’s Word. Many of these women are widows; many live alone. They have entered into a dimension of dependence on God that can only come when you are alone…When the life-stage of these women is appreciated they can become the prayer warriors and encouragers for younger women.”
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. 1 Thessalonians 1:2
Don’t Break the Friendship Chain
It is good to remember that this is not an either/or situation. No matter who you are in these relationships, you can both be the prayer and the prayed for, both the advice giver and the advice receiver, both the encouraged and the encourager, you can both follow an example and lead by example, and you can be accepted while also be accepting of others. No matter your age, or spiritual maturity, you can be simultaneously poured into while pouring into another.
And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15